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We went on a fun wine tasting in Portugal last September, thought we didn’t get to Douro Valley, but will hopefully make it there next time.
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When we visited Porto, Portugal, one of Europe’s top destinations to visit in 2017, we decided to take a couple of days and see the world’s first official wine region. Just an hour away from Porto, Douro Valley is a real gem with wine at its best and we loved every minute of our stay in April of 2017. This is a great time to spend in Douro, when grapes leaves bloom into a lush scenery of greens along with just the right weather – it can be a little windy so carry a jacket. You will love the views of the beautiful steep terraced vineyards overlooking the Douro River and the warm welcome you get when you stay at the quintas (wine estates) atop granite bluffs. Don’t forget to hike the vineyards. It’s more than enjoying the wine and lounging around the pool.
In 2011, UNESCO recognized Douro region as a ‘World Heritage Site’ due to what it represents. The real beauty comes from the steep slopes being created by the river Douro. And I could have not asked for anything better than waking up to these jaw-dropping views every morning. A home away from home.
Having spent a few days in Douro, I will share with you practical travel tips on how to make the best use of your time in this region. If you are in Porto, take time and visit this area, you will not regret it. For us, it was a nice break from all the craziness of Porto and Lisbon. Porto and Douro are some of the most beautiful wine destinations I have ever visited. We loved that it catered to everyone, wines for the wine lovers, terraced landscapes for the nature lovers, views of the Douro for those who love waking up to glorious waves, and peace if you want to just relax and enjoy some quiet time at many of the quintas along the river.
Getting to Douro Valley
Depending on where you are coming from, your base for visiting Douro will have to start from Porto. In my previous article, I discussed how to get to Porto and once there, you can get to Douro Valley through these means.
Driving: Most people chose to drive to Douro by renting a car. This is one of the easiest options, especially if you plan to explore the area more. As you head up most of the hills, you will see gorgeous views of the valley (be careful though, the roads are windy and very narrow). You can check europcar.pt, who has an agency in Porto from which you can rent. Most car rentals start at $50 per day but can be more especially during the summer months.
We booked a driver that was recommended to us by the Quinta we stayed in for 2 days to help us explore the area, visit wineries and drive through the famous N222 between Pinhão and Régua. One of the best drives I have taken so far. Take time, park your car and enjoy the awesome views.
Train: This was the option we opted for. The Quinta we stayed in was right on the train line and we got off and got picked up by the farm shuttle. For everyone taking the train, buy the ticket at the train station since you cannot buy it online. You can purchase it at São Bento or Porto Campanhã and it should cost around $15. The first train will leave from any of these stations and then you make a change at Caide, where you will take the local train that stops along all of the towns in Douro Valley. This is the famous train that goes along the river offering spectacular views of the valley and, depending on where you are going, the train takes between 1.5 to 2 hours to reach Régua. We stayed in Barqueiros and it took us about one hour after Caide.
Boats: From our Quinta, we could see boats passing through the Douro River and they were offering various cruises, mini cruises, and one-day cruises complete with meals and hotels; and even more than 2 days – just like a normal cruise and you can board them from Porto. They have so many choices and most of them start at about $100.
Stay at Quintas
When I was planning our trip to Douro, I found that quintas were the best option for us since there are not many hotels in the region. There are more than 200 quintas (estates) in the region and they offer accommodation for people to stay and fully experience the Douro. One of the best hotels I know of, Six Senses, is in this region and you can stay here if you wish. We opted not to spend about $800 per night and decided to stay at Quinta de S. Bernardo Winery & Farmhouse locate in Vila Jusã. You can spend as little as $100 per night or higher depending on where you stay. For us, the farmhouse offered food prepared by the farmhouse chef, excellent wines, a pool and exquisite views of the river, and an opportunity to hike on the vineyards and we loved how welcomed we were by the family.
The Wines of Douro
I am a wine lover and I tend to visit areas that have excellent wines. With Porto, port wine comes to mind but that changed the moment I stepped foot in Douro. Douro has more than a century old tradition of making excellent wines. The region offers outstanding Mediterranean climate and diverse landscape, where you find slopes with impeccably aligned vineyards and ideal terraces perfect for that glass of excellent red, white, rose and of course port wine.
Visit the many wineries such as Quinta do Vallado, one of the oldest and most famous ‘Quintas’ in this region belonging to Dona Antónia, with an exceptional wine tour. It is always recommended you book ahead of time for wine tours for most of the wineries in this region. Price range depends on what you choose. We spent about $30 tasting 6 wines and for a wine tour at Quinta do Vallado. It is surrounded by charming vineyards with a nice view of the Douro. You can also visit Quinta do Pôpa, picturesque and superb views atop the hill. We ended up shipping more than 10 bottles of wine back to the US. Start your day early and train your key senses to sight, smell and taste of having excellent wines with awe-inspiring views; you never know, you might just end up perfecting the art of being a connoisseur.
Where to eat
When you stay at a Quinta, most of them offer everything you would need. Many have restaurants on site that are reasonably priced for your meals. We did take time to visit a highly acclaimed restaurant, DOC Restaurante, which is located in Folgosa. We loved the views overlooking the river with delicious food and wine list. You can also try the restaurant at Six Senses as well as Terra de Montanha.
Other Things To do and See
Even though there are other things to do and see in Douro, such as visiting the towns of Lamego that has the oldest surviving chapel of The Corinthian columns, this part of Portugal for me was all about taking time and enjoying the simple things in life. Take a day trip from Porto if you wish to have a day tour, rent a car and drive through the region and visit a few wineries or leave all the bustle of Porto and enjoy the calmness that comes with this region.
I never in my wildest dreams would have placed Porto and Douro Valley among my top 5 favorite places in the world to visit. The wonderful steep terraced vineyards of Douro awaits you, go and see for yourself why we love this region so much. The kindness of the people, famous wines (not just ports), and with all the craziness going on in Europe, Portugal offers that calmness away – very safe.
About the Author
I am a Kenyan-American who is adventurous, foodie, wine lover, shoe addict, photographer, yogi and a runner. I also consider myself extremely blessed child of God. I enjoy traveling on a cheap budget by subscribing to the Flight Deal and other deal websites. I spend my days dreaming and planning my next trip. I enjoy traveling as a local. I love sharing stories of the places I visit and I do so through photography. I currently work in the Bay Area as a Marketing Professional. My free time is spent catching up on my favorite TV shows, reading, running and yoga. You can follow me on Instagram and my blog Adventures of An African Dutchess.
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